Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 12 September 2009

"Free The Romney One!" - A Lamb's Tale

Following JuliaM's excellent post on the subject, the saga of Marcus (or Market) the sheep continues to cause much mirth and merriment in the Tavern, particularly since the animal has had to go into hiding to forestall any rescue attempts by the (depressingly unoriginal) Save Our Sheep campaign or Paul O'Grady.

A poor little lamb’s been hidden away,
Baa, baa, baa,
Since he made the front page yesterday,
Baa, baa, baa.
On Monday he goes to meet his fate;
He'll end up cooked on someone’s plate
Though Megan’s mum got in a terrible state,
Baa, baa, baa.

The kids of Lydd have had their say,
Baa, baa, baa,
Thirteen to one said ‘Chops today’,
Baa, baa, baa.
No room for sentimentality
Or offers of hospitality,
Just a lesson in basic reality,
Baa, baa, baa.

Update: for some good comments on this story, see Mark Wadsworth.

A Glass Half Full

Following yesterday’s post, we at the tavern have been selflessly investigating the contents of Britain’s wine glasses.

Remember the days of cheese’n’pineapple hedgehogs and Black Forest Gateau? If you do, then you’ll remember that in those days a wine glass was small and round (unless you were posh and had special ones) and held about 125ml.

They were tough, those little glasses, and able to stand up to the rigours of everyday life and mulled wine. The Sandi Toksvigs of the wine glass world, what they lacked in size they made up for in character and robust durability.

Then along came the willowy long-stemmed style icons. Slim-legged and elegant, they were photographed wherever beautiful people were gathered for a convivial glass. They found their way into sitcoms and property shows, soap operas and films, providing us all with something to aspire to.

Meanwhile advances in dishwasher technology meant that placing these slender beauties in the top rack no longer meant opening the door two hours later to the heart-sinking scrunch of broken glass. Even pubs began to offer wine in them, hoping to attract the image-conscious drinker.

And instead of the paltry 125ml of the 70s, these glasses held 250ml, a third of a bottle. In fact, a quick visit to M&S website reveals that the full capacity of their medium wine glass is 320ml, while their large ones can hold an eye-popping 450ml – nearly a full pint.

No-one is suggesting that you fill these glasses up to the top, but they do help reinforce the constant drip-feed of suggestion that a bottle each is a reasonable amount for a quiet evening in. The media abound with comments to that effect, particularly in relation to young women, and must bear some responsibility for the high levels of consumption reported for that group.

However, with a legal drinking age of 18, the consumers are, by definition, adults. They have been bombarded with messages about safe limits and units, yet some will still choose to drink to excess, just as some of them choose to smoke despite graphic health warnings.

The most effective way to reduce consumption among the young and impressionable would be to use the same methods as the advertisers. Find some way of making small glasses stylish, of suggesting that the big ones are out-of-date and ugly – it takes far more effort to get through a bottle if your glass has to be topped up at least five times.

Sadly, unless the Department of Health signs up a PR genius in the near future, it’s about as likely to happen as London Fashion Week employing models who are five feet tall. Meanwhile, here at the tavern, we resolutely cling to the habits of our youth and a cupboard full of little round glasses.


(For a more philosophical examination of alcohol consumption, I recommend this from Demetrius at the Cynical Tendency.)

Friday, 11 September 2009

One for the Road to Perdition?

Poacher turned gamekeeper Frank Skinner has launched a vehement and interesting attack on alcohol consumption in today’s Times. As one might expect from a former problem drinker, he insists that Britain has a dependency culture and that intervention is essential:

"the BMA should forget about cosmetic changes, such as banning advertising and happy hours, drop the niceties, come down at least as hard as it did on tobacco and say what needs to be said: alcohol is a dangerous drug dressed up as a warm and reassuring companion."

Of course, coming down hard on tobacco hasn’t exactly stamped out smoking, as a walk down my local high street will amply demonstrate. In fact, I should hazard a guess that the same people whose alcohol consumption gives cause for concern are those whose health is being undermined by their smoking and eating habits.

Here in the tavern we are generally as politically neutral as possible (saves arguments with the regulars) but should Mr Skinner turn up for a lime juice, we might find ourselves getting in touch with our inner libertarians:

"We can’t trust the people to decide for themselves because their dependency — often not readily apparent and so easily denied — obviously clouds their judgment. We need the BMA to provide impetus for a great national sobering-up."

Nobody would deny that there are serious alcohol-related problems in this country and that there is a risk that excessive consumption is seen as normal. However, to suggest that we are all, to some extent, alcohol-dependent and in need of regulation is rather too like the prescription of statins for all because some people are overweight.

If Frank Skinner does drop into the Tavern, I sincerely hope Ambush Predator will turn up for a chat; the ensuing debate should be well worth watching.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

No Parachutes for Algernon

Can you build an anti-gravity machine for mice? It sounds like one of those questions you’d ask in the pub, but those clever scientists at JPL have done just that.

Not content with making frogs hover in mid-air – who said science was boring? – they’re using magnets to suspend mice above the floor of a specially designed cage to study the physical effects of weightlessness on mammals.

A superconducting magnet generates a field which levitates the water inside living tissue and the rest of the animal goes along for the ride, so to speak. Which is probably a good thing, really, particularly for the mouse.

Their first subject became agitated and disoriented – wouldn’t you? – so the next mice to try it were sedated. Just imagine what was going through their tiny, stoned rodent minds; ‘Hey man, I think I’m flying! No, really!’

The plan is to continue the experiment long enough to study the long-term effects of a zero-g environment. What we don't know is what will happen to their brains - experiments have shown that exposure to magnetic fields can affect brain activity and can duplicate effects sometimes described as profound religious experiences.

Who knows? This could be the beginning of a spiritually enlightened super-mouse.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

It could be you....and you....and you...

‘The Lottery – a tax on people who flunked math’ (Monique Lloyd)

Quick! Grab a pen and paper – Derren Brown’s going to predict the lottery numbers!

Sadly for those who fancy riding on his elegant coat-tails to untold riches, this latest stunt will doubtless involve some kind of envelope, frustratingly sealed from the eyes of slavering viewers until after the draw has taken place.

How much more fun would it be if he announced the numbers before the draw? A bumper day for newsagents and kiosks up and down the land as customers flock in for their tickets, travel chaos as queues reach unprecedented lengths and millions of people sitting down breathlessly in front of their televisions, each fervently clutching a sheaf of winning tickets.

And best of all, the expression on their faces when they realise that their share of the prize money will be about 57p. If Brown kept the numbers to himself, of course, he could clean up – every week! At least he could if he weren't such a principled individual; naturally that must be the only thing stopping him.

In the words of Jay Leno, “Here’s something to think about; how come you never see a headline like ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?

Update: Comment from the TimesOnline article:
'What he's done here is spend the last year pre-recording all 14 million (or whatever) outcomes! Then as he has walked from the TV over to the balls they spliced in that pre-recorded segment.'

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

It's not big and it's not clever

We’ve all heard them – the cars that cruise past the bedroom window in the middle of the night with open windows and speakers blasting out the jacked-up bass into a quiet street. What goes through their tiny minds, we wonder, and why do they do it? (Although these questions are usually phrased rather more explicitly, particularly at two in the morning.)

Last night’s Gadget Show provided an answer in the shape of young turk presenter Ortis, ‘pimping his ride’ for a car competition at the slightly incongruous Santa Pod Racetrack, Northants.

Eschewing the Aga-sized bank of in-car speakers favoured by his competitors in the entertainment class, he mounted external speakers on the doors of his Golf. ‘This will really impress the girls’, he announced proudly.

So that’s it. An audible phallic symbol. And the rest of the neighbourhood has to put up with the racket even on rainy nights because the driver can wind up the windows and still annoy everyone in the street while he and his passengers play on the built-in games console in the dashboard.

But the worst of it is that this particular car could soon be coming to a street near you; the Gadget Show is offering it as a prize in one of those intellectually demanding phone-in competitions (‘Madonna had a hit with a)American Biscuit b)American Crumble c)American Pie – calls cost £2.50’) so there's no knowing where it will end up.

There is only one consolation when you’ve been woken up for the third time by one of these inadequates cruising past – the theory that the vibrations caused by these speakers can drastically loosen the bowels of those in close proximity.

Sadly there appears to be no scientific evidence for this but I, for one, fervently hope it’s true.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Close Encounters of the Incendiary Kind

This week the truth is out there - way out there - in the guise of a 66-year-old lorry driver from East Anglia whose shady dealings apparently led to 'Britain's Roswell'.

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with UFO-based TV programmes will have seen the juddery out-of-focus reconstructions of US servicemen dashing about breathlessly in Rendlesham Forest on the trail of some multi-coloured lights. The 1980 incident achieved notoriety as an encounter with a possible UFO which left behind physical evidence in the shape of scorched trees and traces of molten metal.

Now Peter Turtill has come forward and claimed that on the night in question he found himself inadvertently in possession of a truckload of stolen fertilizer which broke down on the Rendlesham road. Not wanting to be caught with his incriminating cargo, he took the truck into the forest and set light to it, generating a spectacular burst of vari-coloured flames as the chemicals caught fire.

When the armed Americans appeared, he took fright and towed the burning truck away; not surprising, since being caught with a lorry-load of hooky fertilizer in the vicinity of a US airbase could in no way be described as a good move. There are, to be sure, several loose ends in this tale but then the world of a man who 'lends his truck to a friend' who 'returns it' full of stolen goods probably doesn't bear close scrutiny.

This invitation to wield Occam's Razor has, however, been met with charming scepticism by the UFO fraternity. This week's prize for logic goes to UFO investigator Brenda Butler, who wonders why he remained silent for 29 years (the dodgy fertilizer deal may have something to do with that) and opines:
"There have been so many witnesses who have come forward. He would have to come up with an awful lot of proof to call them liars."

Meanwhile, Mr Turtill must have been enjoying a good laugh...

'In 2005 (or possibly earlier), Suffolk's Forestry Commission received £2,000 of Lottery funding from the Lottery's "Awards for All" grants project. The Forestry Commission decided to spend a portion of that money on a "UFO trail", in the aim of attracting more people to Rendlesham Forest.'

Friday, 4 September 2009

Resting in peace in a theme park

For those who prefer rapiers to clubs, at least as far as satire is concerned, a great literary work of the 20th century was brought to mind by today's news headlines.

In Evelyn Waugh's 'The Loved One', a cynical young Englishman discovers the florid and artificial world of the American cemetery when he visits Whispering Glades, the apotheosis of the mortician's art and a monument to pompous euphemism. The cemetery's extensive acreage abounds with meaningful statues and pseudo-cultural artefacts such as the Wee Kirk o' Auld Lang Syne (complete with authentic inscription in Scots) and the pre-recorded beehive sound-effects on the Lake Isle of Innisfree.

The real-life counterpart of Whispering Glades is, of course, Forest Lawn, final resting place of Michael Jackson. Nowadays a chain of Forest Lawns exists across America to help you 'memorialize your Loved One', but purists will be pleased to know that the original location in Glendale Ca. still boasts the artistic attractions immortalized in Waugh's satire including the Wee Kirk o' the Heather®, 'a faithful rendition of the village church at Glencairn, Scotland, where Annie Laurie of Scottish lore worshipped'.

It is somehow fitting that Michael Jackson should end up in this Never-Never Land of the departed; a theme park in the literal sense of the term where you can choose to rest in one of a multitude of carefully structured environments completely isolated from the outside world.
Anyone who wants to join him there to await the last judgement will be pleased to know that Forest Lawn offers a handy online planner to coordinate your Before Need Reservation.

(For anyone who enjoyed Waugh's book, I thoroughly recommend 'The American Way of Death' by Jessica Mitford - a sort of 1950's 'Fast Food Nation' for the dismal trade.)

Update: While working on this post, I was presented with this tasteful prospect by Google Ads -

Ashes into Glass
Cremated ashes to beautiful glass "Keep the memory".